Late regret for Under-18s after stirring comeback
Spurs 4-4 Reading (Under-18 Premier League)
Sat 24 October 2020, 14:44|Tottenham Hotspur
Our Under-18s battled back from 4-1 down to draw level with Reading – but missed the chance to fully turn the game around when Nile John saw his stoppage-time penalty saved by visiting goalkeeper Matthew Rowley.
In a thrilling contest at Hotspur Way on Saturday, we allowed the Royals to surge into a three-goal lead inside half-an-hour after some sloppy mistakes at the back, but headers from Dane Scarlett and Alfie Devine, either side of Kelvin Ehibhaimha’s penalty for Reading, gave us a fighting chance at 4-2 behind at the break.
Our substitutes gave us greater control in the second period and we dominated the play for large spells, deservedly drawing level when Roshaun Mathurin’s effort deflected home off defender Kelvin Abrefa on 70 minutes and Tarrelle Whittaker’s left-footed free-kick went in nine minutes from time.
But there was a real feeling of frustration at the final whistle after John’s spot-kick was saved in added time. Yago Santiago had an even later chance, but couldn’t steer his effort on target as the game ended 4-4.
Reading, managed by our former Academy Coach Michael Donaldson, took a 12th-minute lead when confusion at the back allowed Harvey Maunder to squirm a shot past debutant goalkeeper Isak Solberg at his near post. Whittaker and Devine tested Rowley at the other end, but Solberg would again have wanted to do better when he was beaten down to his right by Jordan Hamilton’s shot after the Reading man had stormed through into space in the right channel on 18 minutes. It was all too easy for the visitors as Maunder found space to lash an unstoppable shot home for 3-0 in the 27th minute, but Scarlett was always a threat in attack for us and after Devine forced a low fingertip save from Rowley, the striker netted with a brilliant header from left-back Dermi Lusala’s cross in the 33rd minute.
Back came the Royals within two minutes, though, as Santiago was penalised for a tackle from behind on Hamilton as he entered our penalty box, with Ehibhaimha scoring from the spot to restore the visitors’ three-goal lead, but the breathless nature of the game continued as we once again pulled one back on 37 minutes, Lusala again providing a cross from the left on his return to the side, with the unmarked Devine nodding home his first goal in our colours at the far post.
Whittaker was denied by Rowley in a great chance for us at the start of the second half, while we were thankful to captain Marqes Muir for a goal-line clearance after a header hit the bar amid a goalmouth scramble a few minutes later.
Our substitutes were making a discernible impact on our performance and after Romaine Mundle’s half-volley went just wide, Mathurin’s persistence in the box under pressure saw him eventually get a shot away, which took a deflection off Abrefa on its way inside the far post, with Scarlett following in to make sure of the goal with 20 minutes remaining. Solberg made a vital stop from Hamilton as Reading tried to respond, but we continued on the front foot and drew level in the 81st minute when Whittaker was fouled 20 yards out and curled the resulting free-kick low around the wall and inside Rowley’s right-hand post, having earlier failed to meaningfully test the keeper with a set-piece from a similar position.
We deserved a winner for the way we’d controlled the game in the second half and were handed a golden opportunity to find one when Devine was bundled over in the box a minute into added time but, after John stepped up to take the penalty, Rowley kept his shot out. Despite our frustration, Devine conjured up one final opportunity even deeper into stoppage time, but Santiago’s effort from the midfielder’s cut-back went wide.
‘There was one team in the game’
Under-18s Coach Matt Taylor cut a frustrated figure, having seen our efforts to win the match undone by a handful of mistakes and missed opportunities.
“The positive is that we showed character to get back into the game, but we just made far too many errors and were punished in the first half for them,” he said. “There was one team in the game and that was us, and regardless of what the scoreline suggests, we were so dominant in the game that it was really difficult to take at half-time that we’d conceded four goals.
“It was an honest half-time team talk, we went out and scored two goals but I think the sickener for everybody is that we unfortunately missed a penalty at the end, which is difficult to take, but if we’d won the game 5-4 I probably still wouldn’t have been happy to be honest, because there were too many things in there that weren’t what we expect from our players. Hopefully it’s another opportunity for us to learn.
“We’d started relatively well, we won possession back high up the pitch, we’ve had a good training week as well but, similar to last week, we missed too many chances and when you do that, or maybe when you switch off defensively or make an error, ultimately you tend not to be as successful as you want. We’ve scored four goals – it’s just unfortunate that we’ve conceded four as well. It was tough today.”
Spurs 4-4 Reading (Under-18 Premier League)
Spurs: Solberg, Cesay (Mathurin 66), Lusala, Matthew Craig, Muir (c), Paskotsi (John 52), Whittaker, Devine, Scarlett, Haysman (Mundle 58), Santiago. Substitutes (not used): Hayton, Hackett.